Toby Price finished Rally du Maroc strongly with stage five victory but ultimately having to open the road on the penultimate day essentially cost the Australia his chance of victory.
This year a new style road book that riders often only received minutes before the start of each stage meant that the Rally du Maroc once again lived up to its reputation as one of the toughest events on the cross-country rallies calendar. A confusing road book on stage four cost Price too much time when he led the field away in stage four, and by the time he had worked the route out his competitors had closed on him from behind and could then simply follow his lead.
Price was fifth overall coming in to the final day of the rally with eight-minutes to make up on the leaders. The Australian was the 15th rider to enter the stage and although the start position would often prove to be an advantage, Toby would still have to catch and pass several riders ahead in order to make up time. Pushing hard, right from the start, he gained on the leaders with every kilometre.
Unfortunately, a small crash resulted in the reigning Dakar Champion losing too many seconds and despite pushing on for the rest of the stage to ultimately top the day’s standings, he was unable to make up enough time to take the event win. Fourth overall and the highest finishing KTM, Price now looks ahead to the 2020 Dakar Rally and the defence of his title.
“It hasn’t been a bad rally for me, I only just missed out on the podium, which is frustrating, but it’s been really good training. I knew I had to push really hard on that last stage and was making up good time but then had a small crash and gave myself a bit of a stiff neck. I missed out on the podium by just seven seconds but all-in-all I’m pleased with how I rode. Navigation was really tricky here and we had to learn to ride with the minimum of information. I’m hoping that will put us in a good position for January and the Dakar Rally.”
At the top of the standings it was a Husqvarna 1-2 led by American Andrew Short over Chilean Pablo Quintanilla.
Following a strong showing in the race Prologue, Short made the best use of his strengths on the mixed terrain of the Moroccan desert stages, pushing hard when comfortable while maintaining a solid pace on the more technical sections.
Leading the overall standings going into the final day of racing, Short knew he would still have to attack the 168-kilometre timed special to defend his position from the riders behind. A crash early on in the stage couldn’t slow the American’s progress and despite the added pressure of being one of the first riders on track the Husqvarna FR 450 Rally mounted rider put in another excellent ride to complete the stage in fifth. Coming into the rally with the goal of securing second place in the overall 2019 championship standings, Short not only accomplished that but claimed his first world championship victory and confirmed his place amongst the sport’s very best riders.
“I can’t believe it – it doesn’t seem real right now. My main goal coming to Morocco was to finish second in the championship, but to take the win feels unreal. I was second at the Silk Way, which was huge for me but there were a few of the top riders missing. Now all the guys are here at this event getting ready for Dakar and to take the win with such stiff competition is amazing. I couldn’t have done it without the support of the team and the opportunity they have given me over the last couple of years.”
Second overall to Short coming into the final day, Pablo Quintanilla was only 28 seconds behind his teammate as they took to the long 456-kilometre stage. Pushing hard and trying his best to make up the small gap, the Chilean star couldn’t quite match the pace of his hard-charging teammate. Ultimately posting the sixth-fastest time on the gruelling stage, less than one-minute behind Andrew, Quintanilla claimed second place in the overall event standings and secured Rockstar Energy Husqvarna their first ever one-two cross-country rallies result.
Despite spending the majority of the 2019 season recovering from the injury he sustained at the 2019 Dakar Rally, Quintanilla immediately demonstrated his incredible pace on his return to competition by winning round three of the series – the Atacama Rally in Chile. Backing up that performance with second place in Morocco just one month later, the two-time Rallies World Champion has shown he is now back at his best and will undoubtedly be aiming to take his Husqvarna FR 450 Rally to his first ever Dakar win next January.
“The race was really good for me. I hurt my leg right at the beginning, which slowed my pace a little but after getting used to the new style of road book I found I was able to put in some good times. In the end I finished second, which I am really pleased about as it’s only my second race of the year. It shows the work we have been doing with the team and also preparation with the bike is really paying off. I’m also really happy for Andrew for getting his first win and finishing second in the championship. He has been working so hard to achieve his goal and it’s nice to see a teammate and a friend succeed like this. I’m really motivated for the future now and would just like to thank the whole Rockstar Energy Husqvarna team for all their support. We have two months to go till Dakar and I think we are really strong as a team and I’m looking forward to it – it’s a really important race for all of us.”
Honda’s Joan Barreda rounded out the overall podium after finishing runner-up in the final stage. The Spaniard rode a fine special to post a finish just three-seconds short of the stage winner and concluding the rally on the third step of the rostrum, with a seven-second advantage over fourth place finisher Toby Price.
“Fighting for the podium was something possible, so today I went out to try for it and things went well. It has been a difficult race, very full, with many different types of terrain, some complicated navigation. It has not been bad as preparation for the Dakar, which is the big objective that we have and which we have been preparing for all season. The team has worked hard this season and now there is only the final stretch of preparation before the 2020 Dakar.”
American rider Ricky Brabec set off on the final morning with his sights likewise set on a podium place. However, his starting position for the final special was far less favourable in his bid for third overall place. In spite of this, Ricky clocked up some fine partial times, although not enough to hold on to his third overall position. A ninth place on the stage means the American claimed fifth final place in the general rankings of the rally.
“The day was quite complicated for me as I had to open track for the final 100 kilometres on very fast tracks. I was hoping to finish stronger, but throughout the rally the differences between the riders was very little and every day we were changing positions. Anyway, I am happy to have finished the whole race and to have prepared for the Dakar, where I will arrive with more confidence.”
Kevin Benavides was happy to have made it through to the end of the rally after a fall in the third stage had turned the race into an uphill struggle. The rider battled on despite a right leg injury which had taken a blow in the very same point as a previous injury picked up in Morocco. Ruling out a retirement, the Argentine Monster Energy Honda Team rider managed to make it to the end to wrap up the Rallye du Maroc with a top ten overall finish, which gave him third place in the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship.
“Today I finished seventh on the day and my leg was feeling much better. I’m tenth in the general standings, but third in the world championship, which is better. Taking stock of everything, it has been a very complicated year. In Abu Dhabi I arrived just after an injury and in Abu Dhabi a brake problem affected my race and it didn’t go too well here either. It has been a year to learn a lot without giving up and I will keep looking ahead as soon we have the Dakar 2020.”
Using the race to test their WR450F Rally machines in competition for the final time ahead of next January’s Dakar Rally, Team Yamaha found the 2019 season-ending event in Morocco presented both expected and several unexpected challenges.
Arriving at the Rally du Maroc with a number of upgrades and improvements made to their WR450F Rally bikes, there was a final opportunity for team riders Adrien Van Beveren, Xavier de Soultrait and Franco Caimi to test their machines, measure their performance, and spend all-important time reading navigational road books while in competition.
Securing a well-deserved final result inside the top 10, Franco Caimi produced the best Yamalube Yamaha Rally Team performance. Returning to the Moroccan event having last year crashed out and sustained a significant leg injury, following months of hard work and preparation the Argentinian once again showed his world class credentials. Well-aware of the events that unfolded 12 months ago, Caimi opted for a cautious approach to the opening days of the event and placed just outside of the top 10 on each of the first two full days of competition. Finishing third on the first half of the marathon stage, Caimi jumped to third overall in the provisional standings. In finishing 18th at the end of the difficult second half of the marathon stage, he then placed 11th on the fifth and final stage to earn ninth overall.
Adrien Van Beveren came into the 2019 Rally du Maroc in high spirits following strong results in both the Morocco Rally and the Silk Way Rally and having spent months working on his physical fitness together with extensive testing of the Yamalube Yamaha Rally Team’s WR450F Rally bike. Frustratingly for Van Beveren a positive end-of-event result went out the window when he was forced to abandon stage three due to sickness. Producing an event best result of fourth on stage two, Adrien re-started the competition to finish an impressive fifth on stage four despite still feeling far from 100 per cent following eight days of illness. In placing 26th on stage five the Frenchman completed the event having shown impressive pace on both the sandy and gravel stages.
Alexandre Kowalski – Team Yamaha
“This has been a very important and very positive event for the Yamalube Yamaha Rally Team. We came to the Rally du Maroc knowing that many months of work had been invested by all the team and the riders, and to see the increase in our bike’s performance and the speed, and confidence of our riders is very pleasing. We still have work to do, in rally there is always something to improve, but this is now fine tuning what is a very good bike. In terms of results we can of course be a little disappointed, but this event is part of our preparations for Dakar, so is a part of something much bigger for us. Our positive steps forward are very encouraging. The riders all did a very good job. For Franco to close his Morocco story and return here after his serious injury last year, to perform so well and carry a lot of confidence forward to Dakar is great. Adrien, considering his sickness, did a great job. With full fitness and no sickness we look forward to what he can achieve at Dakar. And Xavier, steady at the start but strong and confident in navigation, has ended 2019 in a positive way. Also, for the new team with the latest version of our rally bike, it has been an important event. We keep working and focus on improving ahead of Dakar.”
Rally du Maroc 2019 Stage Five Results
- PRICE Toby AUS KTM 2:13’15
- BARREDA Joan SPA Honda +2’54
- BENAVIDES Luciano ARG KTM +3’10
- WALKNER Matthias AUT KTM +3’31
- SHORT Andrew USA Husqvarna +5’14
- QUINTANILLA Pablo CHI Husqvarna +6’07
- BENAVIDES Kevin ARG Honda +6’17
- DE SOULTRAIT Xavier FRA Yamaha +6’51
- BRABEC Ricky USA Honda +7’15
- EVAN BRANCH Ross BWA KTM +7’32
2019 Cross-Country Rallies
Rally du Maroc 2019 Final Overall Standings
- SHORT Andrew USA Husqvarna 18:03:54
- QUINTANILLA Pablo CHI Husqvarna +1’21
- BARREDA Joan SPA Honda +2’44
- PRICE Toby AUS KTM +2’51
- BRABEC Ricky USA Honda +4’07
- BENAVIDES Luciano ARG KTM +7’17
- WALKNER Matthias AUT KTM +7’38
- EVAN BRANCH Ross BWA KTM +14’20
- CAIMI Franco ARG Yamaha +20’30
- BENAVIDES Kevin ARG Honda +21’16